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Stability sets the Steelers apart

Fox By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are the oldest team in football, which in most seasons would be a problem. Not this one. Because there was no offseason to speak of, continuity will be huge this year, and the Steelers are the most stable organization in the NFL.

Consider this: Of the 22 starters on offense and defense, only one (right guard Doug Legursky) will be new from last season. All 11 starters from the second-best defense in the NFL last season are back.

In fact, after whittling the roster to 53 players, the Steelers have only seven new faces on the team.

The players on this team know how to win a Super Bowl, and they know how bad it feels to get there and lose. They won't lose this season. In the first-ever battle of the Keystone state, Pittsburgh will beat Philadelphia in Indianapolis to win its second Super Bowl in four years.

Picking the Super Bowl winner in September is risky business. A team has to peak at the right time, avoid losing key players to injury and get a little lucky along the way. But the Steelers are built to get there, with talent and depth and continuity.

Imagine a Super Bowl against the Eagles. The Steelers' offense should be just as explosive as the Eagles'. Pittsburgh would counter DeSean Jackson with Mike Wallace, a speedy deep threat who led the AFC with 21 yards per catch in 2010. Like the Eagles, Pittsburgh has the weapons to spread teams out, and a running back in Rashard Mendenhall who is a reliable ball carrier in his prime. Ben Roethlisberger is 29, back as a team captain and has the mobility to avoid whichever pass-rusher the Eagles would send off the edge or up the middle.

Although the Steelers' secondary will have to prove it can contain big-play receivers such as Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the defense certainly could give Michael Vick fits. Imagine Dick LeBeau with two weeks to scheme for Vick. Last year LeBeau's defense led the NFL with 48 sacks, and outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison combined for 20.5. The Steelers gave up a league-low 3.0 yards per carry. They could get to Vick in the pocket or in the open field.

Mike Tomlin has proved he can win a Super Bowl. He will win another this season by beating the Eagles.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pats poised to end bad playoff streak

Clayton By John Clayton
ESPN.com
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The Super Bowl champion Packers won four playoff games last season. The Patriots have lost their last three playoff games.

Going against the numbers, I'm picking the Patriots to win the Super Bowl in a game against the Packers. Am I crazy? No, my logic is that I like the Patriots in this matchup. Matchups mean everything nowadays, and we've seen that the Patriots have had difficulty matching up against man-to-man teams with a good pass rush in playoff games.

That became clear when the Jets went to Foxborough last January and beat the Patriots, harassing Tom Brady all day. Bill Belichick has had time to understand the problem and make some adjustments. By the end of this season, he should have answers for what the Packers might do against his team in a Super Bowl.

The Packers have one legitimate pass-rusher, Clay Matthews, and Belichick will find ways of blocking him. He'll also know the inner thoughts of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who spent some time on the Patriots' staff.

Ultimately, though, the games -- as they always do in the NFL -- come down to quarterbacks. For the moment, I have Brady as being the league's best quarterback, with a slight edge over Aaron Rodgers. Brady has three Super Bowl rings to Rodgers' one. This game would determine who the league's best quarterback is heading into next season.

When you think about it, what a great Super Bowl this would be. Brady would enter with the confidence of ending that three-game playoff losing streak and having at least two playoff victories behind him. A confident Brady is a dangerous player. Even in that last Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Brady executed a drive that normally wins games.

It's tough trying to repeat Super Bowl victories. The last team to do that was the Patriots. It has been fascinating to watch Belichick adjust to the defensive talent pool and switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. The Packers hit the lottery when they drafted Matthews. For whatever reason, Belichick hasn't been able to hit on a Matthewslike pass-rushing linebacker for an eternity. So he switched gears and loaded up a four-man defensive line to put the missing pressure on the quarterback.

I'll go with the Patriots.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.